- Refined as you like
- Bold styling
- Go-anywhere ability
- Rivals are cheaper
- Hint of cost-cutting in the interior
Ben Griffin sped through the Welsh countryside and then battled harsh terrain at Jaguar Land Rover’s Eastnor test facility to see if the fifth-generation SUV is still king of the off-roading castle.
First the Range Rover was refreshed, then we saw the Velar. Now we have the fifth-generation Land Rover Discovery on our hands, which has a new look, new technologies, new gadgets and a new level of comfort. All the new, basically.
We were invited to the UK launch at Jaguar Land Rover’s Eastnor Castle proving ground to see if the fifth-generation model can fill the muddy shoes worn by its predecessors, the first example of which landed on the scene 28 years ago.
What is the 2017 Land Rover Discovery?
The Discovery was always about being a hard-wearing tool for pulling a boat, driving over harsh terrain and keeping the family comfortable. In its Discovery 5 guise, it does all that while being considerably more comfortable. Almost Range Rover comfortable, in fact.
Not only is it more luxurious, it is also much lighter. Land Rover has ditched the old bloated chassis and replaced it with a predominantly aluminium monocoque alternative that saves up to 480kg in weight, bringing the total to a less porky 2.1 tonnes.
It also comes with a clever suspension setup (derived from the Range Rover) and the terrain response system has been made more savvy so that you never really have to intervene when going off the beaten track. New additions, meanwhile, such as Trailer Assist with auto-steering aim to make life easier.
How does the new Land Rover Discovery look?
The old Discovery was essentially a large box with windows. Some claimed it had presence, but then any vehicle the size of a bungalow would. Yet there is no denying it looked like it was made to wear difficult terrain like a hat and that was the charm.
For the new model, the front-end has been made rounder, which gives it a playful, toy-like aesthetic. You can decide whether it is an improvement or not, but there is no denying people stare at it. Usually longingly, but sometimes in disgust.
Things start to unravel at the back. The lack of symmetry will be enough to upset most people (yes, we know it harkens back to an old Discovery tradition), the fact it manages to look like it has had a stroke, with a drooping face on one side, is something that is hard to un-see once seen.
As off-roaders go though, the new Land Rover Discovery is still a grand-looking vehicle and the overall aesthetic is one that says you have a lot of disposable income. And a penchant for Barbour jackets. Make of that what you will.
What about the new Land Rover Discovery’s interior?
The cabin provides opulence better than almost all off-roaders, with Volvo the closest contender. But there are a few cheap plastics and moments of uninspiring design, such as the steering wheel controls, that take it down a notch. It has the Discovery Sport beat, though.
Then there is the satnav, which can be a pain to follow because of its slow refresh speed, and there is no Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, both of which are offered on the XC90.
The touchscreen display is, however, a doddle to use and the user-interface is mostly intuitive. We also appreciate the relatively simple, intuitive layout for the many, many buttons around the dashboard.
Tall folk could benefit from a tad more room up front, but the second and third row provide ample space for adults. Head room is generous, too, as you would expect from its upright stance.
Niggles aside, the new Land Rover Discovery is extremely comfortable on long journeys no matter where you sit and the lofty seating position makes you feel king of the road. It helps, too, the highly adjustable front seat allows you to get suitably comfy.
The HSE Luxury trim level (tested) offers an even more enviable level of luxury – think screens in the back to keep your passengers quiet – but you have to pay through the nose for the privilege. The standard ‘S’ spec is good, but there is plenty of customisation available for deep-pocketed folk.
How well does the Land Rover Discovery handle?
Like a well-refined vehicle. It glides along in a fashion so smooth it is easy to forget you are in a moving vehicle. Really big bumps can be a problem, especially where noise is concerned, but most of the time it turns tarmac into a soft velvety carpet just as convincingly as the Audi Q7.
Body roll does rear its head at speed but the reduction in weight makes it less of an issue. All-wheel drive, meanwhile, helps emphasise the fact the new Discovery is a planted, well-balanced vehicle with serious amounts of traction.
For such a big brute, the new Discovery 5 is actually very precise and easy to drive. Whether pootling around town, cruising at 70mph on a motorway or conquering the countryside, there is little it cannot do with ease.
In terms of the Range Rover Sport, the new Discovery is a less involving and less sharp tool. Yet it is more engaging than the Range Rover and on a par with the XC90 for overall enjoyment.
How good is the new Discovery at off-roading?
Jaguar Land Rover claims the latest Discovery is more capable than anything before it and we can well believe the claim, having navigated some of the tougher (but not toughest) tracks at Eastnor.
A vast array of clever systems keep it from getting stuck. The Auto setting, which adjusts everything for you, is so good you will never really need to dig out the manual to work out what mode you should be using.
The fact it can tip-toe down a steep gravel slope so slowly it feels as if gravity has been switched off is a remarkable feat of engineering. Tree roots and rocky terrain are handled as easily as driving up a kerb.
To make life even easier, you can control the speed of the new Discovery with buttons on the steering wheel so you only have to worry about the steerin, while the large infotainment display tells you the direction the wheels are facing and where engine power is being sent.
Being able to adjust the ride height is another plus, although its usefulness on the school run is debatable. The new Discovery does, however, have less ground clearance than it used to. 283mm – a decrease from 310mm – is the same as that of the Mercedes-Benz GLS.
As for wading depth, you get 900mm to play with so no puddle should ever be an issue. The infotainment display provides a sound and visual warning for how deep you can go before you turn your new Discovery into a really ineffective boat.
Is the new Sd4 diesel any good?
We had concerns whether a small engine could even move such a large vehicle, let alone do so in a convincing manner. In reality, the 2.0-litre diesel has enough grunt to gain speed with reasonable urgency and the level of torque (500Nm) lets it handle the same terrain as the 3.0-litre Td6 (600Nm).
The four-cylinder Sd4 sounds loud and harsh at high revs but the eight-speed automatic keeps the noise down most of the time and there is no incentive to ever bury the accelerator, such is the linear pace and low down availibilty of the torque.
The Sd4 never feels as reassuring or pleasing as the grunty Td6, admittedly, but you do feel less guilty when at the wheel because it drinks less fuel (43.5 vs 39.2mpg) and puffs out less CO2 (171 vs 189g/km). The engine is also lighter, which improves chuckability.
For people who do a lot of short drives and can take a hit on mid-range oomph, the SD4 is going to be more than adequate and is noticeably cheaper to buy, allowing you to either save some money or use it to spec it up a bit.
But if you want your Discovery to feel effortless and somewhat sporty, the bigger V6 diesel is the way to go. Even if on paper the 0-60mph is only three-tenths of a second faster, at 7.7 seconds.
A 3.0-litre Si6 petrol is another option. It offers 340hp, 450Nm of torque and 0-60mph in 6.9 seconds, but fuel economy is a thirsty 26mpg combined and CO2 is 254g/km. it is also £2,015 more expensive than the Td6. You have really got to hate diesel to go for it.
Is the 2017 Land Rover Discovery practical?
Very much so. There are many storage areas to store things (maybe too many if you are forgetful) that provide a total of 45 litres of space and you can also charge various devices using any of the many USB ports throughout the cabin.
All seats can be folded flat via a group of buttons at the front left side of the boot, the infotainment display up front or an app as part of the Intelligent Seat Fold system.
It can take seconds to have a flat loading area, which is in stark contrast to the procedure in the old car that took days (or so it felt). The app can be unresponsive and we witnessed a minor connection issue that slowed the process, but it does allow you to prepare the boot before getting back to the car.
With all the seats in place, boot space is 280 litres – a little less than some rivals. With five seats in place, you get 1,137 litres, rising to a van-rivalling 2,406 litres with all seven dropped.
One especially useful addition is the aforementioned Trailer Assist, which turns the steering wheel for you. All you have to do is twist a control knob that pops up between the front seats and use a combination of on-screen graphics and two cameras to park the trailer where you want it.
It is worth noting the second row of seats can only be split 60:40, as opposed to the more useful 40:20:40 arrangement, which is less convenient but by no means the end of the world.
The tailgate is now of the one-piece variety, but there is an inner foldable panel that you can perch on to remove your wellies or enjoy a sandwich. Up to 300kg of weight is supported so only the heaviest need not apply.
Worth buying the new Land Rover Discovery, then?
The Discovery S with the Sd4 engine starts from £43,995, making it cheaper than the entry-level seven-seater £48,655 XC90, but it is easy to really bump up the price with options and the Td6 starts from a more noticeable £51,295.
It is hardly cheap, then, but you do get unrivalled versatility, seven seats and a gigantic boot to compliment a satisfying drive and great comfort. The fact it is now more eco-friendly is a bonus for those who care about global cooling and polar seals.
Yes, you could buy an almost as capable off-roader for less money and one without such a ‘fugly’ rear end, but in doing so you would lose the feel-good factor and prestige associated with the badge.
Purists will, of course, bemoan the step away from the Discovery 4’s rugged ways and claim the new car is too soft and too pleasant, but being more akin to the pricier Range Rover is hardly a bad thing. If anything, it helps justify the price tag.
Make no mistake, though. The new Discovery has the same ‘I could drive across the artic circle if I wanted to’ attitude, it’s just now it can do everything else a whole lot better.
|Engine||2.0-litre Sd4 four-cylinder diesel|
|Acceleration||0-62mph in 8.0 seconds|
|Emissions||171g/km of CO2|